CHAPTER I: A MERCHANT FROM VOLDAR

A SANTHARIAN DETECTIVE STORY

 
The Tale of Katya Dragonseeker   
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Introduction. When a man enters the room of a tavern in Bardavos, someone is already waiting for him... and buries a dagger in his chest. Meanwhile, the famous bard Judith is performing in "The Singing Bard". All visitors are enjoying this night. Among them is a well-to-do merchant from Voldar, by the name of Calmin. Little does he know that the following nights will not be spent so peacefully...
 

PROLOGUE
 

he man entered the room with a smile on his face. Standing still next to the door, he surveyed the scene before him. Well, not much of a scene perhaps, as he was quite alone. The room was rather simple, really. A bed was standing at the far end, blankets lying neatly over it. As usual, it was immaculately clean in here, just as he requested every time. Next to the bed was a washing stand with a mirror, a water can upon it should he wish to freshen up. Then, on his left, a fire was burning happily. The chambermaid had made sure it would be warm enough here. Nice girl, he thought. A little young for his taste, perhaps, but a very nice girl nonetheless.

He advanced a little into the room, took a log from next to the fire and put it on top to stir it up a little. Squatting down with the poker in his hand, he arranged the new log so that it firmly balanced on top. Already little flames were licking away at the sides, and he knew that very soon the log would turn black.

He stood up again and walked over to the washing stand. After pouring some water on his hands, he wetted his face, and then rubbed the water away. Looking up, he regarded his own face in the mirror. Although in his forties already, he was still quite handsome. Well, maybe the last couple of years had seen a kind of increase in his girth, but that was only to be expected. If only his cook wasn’t so good… The hair crowning his head was still black, although at the side some grey began to appear. He thought it rather added to his looks.

Suddenly he noticed a movement in the mirror. The door seemed to be closing of its own accord. Quickly he turned around. So he was not, after all, alone in this room. But why the hiding? When the door was completely closed, the person turned to him. On seeing the face, the man’s cheeks were invaded by a pallor.

"Y… you!" he stuttered. "What are you doing here?" There was no answer, only the movement of a hand. With a shock of horror the man realised that he was looking at a dagger. Before he could react, his assailant moved in his direction and, with a dull thud, the dagger was planted into his heart. He was dead before he could cry for help, even before he had fully realised what had happened. With the look of horror still in his eyes, he slowly fell backwards.
 

CHAPTER I: A MERCHANT FROM VOLDAR

he tavern of the Singing Bard was a nice place to be, generally. This night was no exception, decided Calmin. The performance on the small podium by the wall was of outstanding quality, and it was making true the tavern’s name. The bard that was singing at this moment was, so he was told, one of the most famous bards in Bardavos, and quite possibly even in Sarvonia. She was called Judith, and now that he heard her sing he could see why she was so famous. Not only that, but he found her rather pretty as well. He could see that some men would find her face more arresting than they liked a woman to appear, maybe not sweet enough despite her generous smile. But he was not one of them. And everyone would have to agree that she was an interesting woman. You could see that she had character. And a temper, probably. He had not seen this for himself, as this was the first time he actually saw her, but someone had told him once.

As the night wore on, the songs became bawdier, and Judith invited all the guests to sing or clap along. The whole room showed laughing faces, turned towards the masterbard; some people even tried a little dance to her tunes. Not that it went much further than trying – most of them were too drunk to even stand upright. Half the dancers fell over against the other half, all of them shaking with laughter. Calmin thought there must be a few amongst them who would be seeing pink dragons before they went to bed, or maybe little green men telling them what to do.

Calmin knew some of the songs, but he only clapped along. He was a little too advanced in age to actually sing, and he was not drunk enough to stop caring who heard him. Besides, he knew that his was hardly a singing voice – more like a croaking one. Still, he was enjoying himself rather well.

After a particularly descriptive song about a wife cheating on her husband, the bard was quiet for just a while. All faces turned expectantly towards the stage, where they saw one of the most striking features of the woman sitting there: a pair of emeraud eyes. Slowly, the hubbub in the room died down, everyone expecting her to start singing again, or else to speak. She did the latter.

"As the evening – or night, whichever you prefer to call it – is drawing to a close, I would like to sober up again. I wish to tell you a story of our fair city, from the time when it was still called Thaehavos, when an elven army marched against its walls…" If her audience had expected her to go on in the same fashion as just before, they were disappointed. But there was not a soul who complained as she plucked the first notes from her lute. Even talking was subdued to a minimum.

"There was a battle
In the south,
And northern elves were ready,
To come down from
The forests wild
And blood their swords at Strata…"

So sounded the first stanza of her song. Even the last of the talk now died down, as everyone listened to the steady plucking on the lute, which sounded almost like horses, galloping on and on towards the city walls. As the clear voice told of the siege, the Thaehavin’s despair, and the bravery of the seven minstrels, many were moved almost to the point of tears, as the mothers were called to mourn their sons – although they’d never have admitted to feeling a lump in their throats at that part. As the three last sons returned victorious with the armies, all were grinning widely, although all remained quiet until the last notes of the last stanza had died down, which had once more raised the hair on their arms.

It was now clear that Judith would be taking a break. Gradually, the volume of the noise increased again, many men talking about that war that had taken place two thousand years ago. They refused to admit just how much the song had moved them, except in terms of war and glory.

Calmin heard them talk, and gave an unnoticed nod, storing the impression of this song, and of the evening, in his mind. He knew enough about men now, after all his years of experience, to know that these people had felt it in their hearts, not only the glory, but also the sadness. Perhaps the ability to wake that in a man was what made the masterbard so great.

Close to Calmin were sitting a few men who had quite obviously had an ale too many – or a few ales, for that matter. Calmin started listening in on their conversation, which had taken a rather philosophical turn, when one of them turned to him and included him in it:

"Sjee, sjee, fing isj, we’s not really real, sjee. Ham tellin’ ya, we doesn’t ek… es… exist. Sjee, deres deesj people in disj oder world, ‘n they’s…" at this his voice dropped down to a whisper: "they’s invent usss!" The ominous effect of his last words was lost in the general clamour for a next song, and because he’d fallen asleep suddenly, unfortunately on Calmin’s shoulder. He couldn’t easily dislodge the man, so he waved over the barman to help him. Glandys came over and quickly found two strong guys to pick up the drunkard, each on one end, and throw him out of the tavern. Glandys then turned to the others. "The rest of you have had quite enough by now. I ask you to leave my tavern. Get your mate and take him elsewhere."

There was a general muttering in the group, but luckily none of them made any trouble. At least one or two had some sense left in them, apparently. They stood up and staggered in the general direction of the door. Calmin guessed it was close to the time that all locals would be chased off home, to be dealt with by their wives, anyway. He walked after the men and stepped outside for a minute, breathing in the nightly air. The men were picking up their still sleeping mate, as much as possible, and took off.

From his left, a voice suddenly said "Identify yourself!" Calmin turned around, and saw a night guard standing next to him. He answered politely: "My name is Calmin, sir, I am a merchant by trade. I’m staying in this tavern here while visiting your fair city." The guard looked at him by the light of his lamp. He saw an elderly man, with a weathered face surrounded by white hair and a short beard. His blue eyes had a merry twinkle in them, although the guard could only barely discern this with the little light that he had.

"Calmin, eh?" he muttered. "I’ve heard that name before… Oh yes, you were that friend of the captain’s, weren’t you?" The merchant nodded his head. "Yes, that was me. I was just taking a step away from the noise inside, until the bard, Judith’s her name, starts to sing again." The guard nodded. "She’s something, isn’t she. Got a voice like a blue glitra, she has. Best singing you’ll hear in a while, I’ll warrant." Calmin definitely agreed with him. "Well, I’m off to get a last ale, and hear the bard sing a few last songs; and then it’s bed-time for me, I guess." The man wished him a good night, and went on his way, soon overtaking the drunkards trying to wake their friend. He told them to go home.

When Calmin came back inside, he ordered another apple ale – only the third this evening, he was not a very great drinker, although he did like a drop of scumble every now and then. Never too much, though; he still wanted to live… With the ale in his hand, he regarded the crowd around him. People from many different classes had found their way to the "Singing Bard", to hear, well, the singing bard. Anyone with some sans to spare, so that they could pay their drink, had gathered this evening. It would have surprised nobody at all if there were some kind of fight later on, but for now everything seemed to be in order.

Neither Calmin, nor any other customer of the bar that night could have known how soon this seeming calm would be disturbed.

 


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